The NFL Players Association is discouraging players from attending voluntary, in-person offseason workouts scheduled to open on April 19, a source told the New York Daily News.
NFLPA president JC Tretter, the Cleveland Browns’ center, told players on a Friday call that the union is pushing for an all-virtual offseason and will urge players to boycott in-person OTAs this spring, the NFL Network reported.
A source described it to the News more as discouraging attendance than organizing a boycott. Either way, the message is clear.
The union’s leadership consistently has advocated for making last year’s virtual offseason format permanent, but Friday’s action was an escalation in negotiations with owners.
It came in response to the owners’ declaration on March 31 that they expected at least some in-person work at OTAs this spring, even if meetings remained virtual.
Some players already have been working out or rehabbing at team facilities, and hundreds have workout bonuses associated with their in-person attendance.
“We do not anticipate a duplication of last season’s virtual workout program,” the NFL’s management council said in a memo.
OTAs are voluntary, so it’s a players’ prerogative to attend. The only mandatory minicamp on the schedule falls in mid-June.
But the union is pushing for that to remain virtual, as well, seeking to make last year’s pandemic rules the norm to reduce player offseason workload.
The irony is that the union simultaneously agreed to a 17th regular-season game that adds a ton of snaps on the bodies of their players.
The league declined comment through a spokesman when reached by the Daily News on Friday evening.
There are plenty of players who agree with the union’s stance that there is no need to attend OTAs with COVID-19 still prevalent. Most veterans fall in that camp (some prefer to stay away during normal years, as well).
The careers of rookies, young players and fringe guys can suffer, though, when they fail to get on the field in front of new coaches to prove themselves.
Last season, the NFLPA agreed to reduce training camp rosters from 90 to 80, and that cost hundreds of players jobs around the league, many of them undrafted free agents who were released before they ever had a chance to step on the field.
This year, around 220 of the league’s players have workout bonuses, according to Jason Fitzgerald of overthecap.com. Only 25 are $300,000 or more. About 100 are between $100,000 and $300,000.
It would be expected that the players with the largest workout bonuses would have more incentive to report in person late this month despite the union’s stance.
But one player told the News on Friday if a guy has a $25,000 workout bonus, in this COVID-19 climate plenty of players would prefer just to stay at home and train on their own for now.
Teams like Washington, Dallas and Houston have “de-escalators” tied to workouts, too, per overthecap.com, so that’s another group of players with incentive to report.
The Giants players with the largest workout bonuses are Blake Martinez, James Bradberry and Dante Pettis at $100,000 apiece. Pettis would have the most to lose by not showing up since he has the lowest salary of the three, has competition for a roster spot, and could be released with no dead cap hit.
The union’s push to discourage player attendance is frustrating coaches who in normal years typically are able to bring the bulk of their rosters back for spring workouts even though they are voluntary.
Coaches also are aching to have more on-field practice time than they did last year, when it was borderline non-existent, leading to an especially sloppy on-field product in the early regular season.